A vacation retrospective

I have my blog scheduled through Wednesday, but as we’ve just returned from vacation I wanted to share some reflections before I get back to my more “normal” grind. As folks who read Painfully Hopeful may have surmised, this second week of vacation took our family up to Massachusetts. During this trip we got to connect with both family and friends, but even more notable was the time we took to enjoy old stomping grounds. It was a memorable visit.

The interlude

After our one night at Sturbridge we journeyed to Cape Cod – where some of our family lives. We remained for several days, mostly relaxing in their home and walking the beach near their house. It was a comfortable visit with some very good people, and a nice interlude before the rest of the week unfolded.

The hiccup

On Thursday we traveled up to Burlington, MA – which is where we made our camp for the rest of the week. We had reservations at a Sonsesta Suites and were looking forward to getting unpacked and out to do something fun. That’s when I discovered a bubble in one of our tires. So, instead of some great “nowhere else” cultural experience, I dropped the family off at a local Barnes and Noble 1 and headed to a nearby Volkswagen dealer to get our tired looked at. I cannot thank the people at MinutmanVolkswagon enough. I explained the problem to them, they located a tire, and had my car in the bay before I’d even finished the paperwork. I was in and out in just about an hour, which gave me time to pick up the family and get to our hotel. That is incredible service.

The home base

This is the only Sonesta Suites location at which we’ve ever stayed, but if they are all like this do yourself a favor and look for one. It was “just a hotel,” but it felt more like a family resort. Everything was well-lit, and laid-out with minimalist furniture and signage. The decor, however, was far from “sparse.” The color patterns were bright and open, and the furniture was quite comfy. My son stated several times he wanted to go down to “the family room” and read with me. Indeed, I saw quite a number of people relaxing in this space throughout out stay. It was well designed.

Out the back of the hotel was a small pool, a basketball court, several benches, and two gas grills under a gazebo for guest use. As with “the family room,” this was a well-designed space which got a good deal of use. The court was rarely without several people shooting around, the pool was well-used, and families cooked out several of the nights we were there. The entire design made the hotel feel more like an apartment community, rather than a temporary way-station. This ambiance played out in how the guests tended to treat one another. Folks were open and chatty without being obnoxious 2. The community was extremely international as well, we even had a short conversation with a man from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in the elevator. Being a creature who needs habit to stay on track, traveling is stressful for me. Sonesta Suites made me feel as through I was in “my space,” and it helped me relax.

The Freedom Trail

On Friday we made our way into Boston for the first time since we moved in 2003. We’ve been around Boston several times since, and even drove through the Big Dig a time or two, but this was the first time we were “on the ground” in twelve years.

We made our way to the Commons Garage and emerged in the middle Boston Common. This magnificent park, running along side Beacon Hill, is the oldest Municipal Park in the country. It’s not huge, but it is peaceful. Next to the Common is the Public Garden, which we strolled through in search of the Make Way For Ducklings monument. After this we began out trek along the Freedom Trail – a meandering path through downtown, the North End, and ending in Charlestown. For images of our walk, see my Flickr gallery.

We took in the sights, grabbed lunch at Quincy Market, and wandered the North End so we could grab some snacks at Mike’s Pastries. I got a fudge cupcake which was out of this world.

After a visit to the Old North Church, we marched across to Charletown, where my wife and daughter relaxed in a park while my son and I tromped up to the Bunker Hill memorial 3. I would have been happy getting a clear photograph of the monument from a distance, but he wanted to get to the end of the trail, and to the end we went. It was quite a hike! By the time we got back to the car Boston’s rush hour had begun, and it took us some time to get back to the hotel. We were exhausted and collapsed for the night

It was great to walk the Freedom Trail again. I must admit, I am Philly born and bred – Philadelphia is “the City,” and it will always be the cultural region toward which I am inclined. But if I were ever to live in a city, it would probably be Boston – the place is so wonderfully walkable 4.

The Seven Gables

Saturday took us up closer to our old stomping grounds, into Salem. No, we didn’t do any of the “witch stuff,” which I find rather distasteful. We headed to the site of the House of Seven Gables and took a fantastic tour which explained the nature of the house, how and why it had been restored and set up as a museum, and a bit about Nathaniel Hawthrone himself 5. Hawthorne’s birthplace has also been moved on to the property, so we got to tour that modest home as well. It is in his birthplace the museum displays Hawthorne’s favorite writing desk. Oh what a thrill it would be to sit down there and write even a sentence fragment! Sadly, it was off-limits.

After the tour we were all wiped out, so we hit one of my old haunts for lunch and headed back to the hotel for an afternoon of rest and relaxation. For me it was reading and writing and photo-organization.

The old homestead

our-first-doorMost of our friends from Seminary have long since moved on to other locations, but we have a good friend who has remained in the area. He and his wife are some amazing people, and we happen to have the honor of being godparents to their youngest child. Over the years we have made sure to keep in touch, and we try to make sure we see each other at least once a year.

This past year our friends have actually moved back on to the seminary campus where we met, and into the same building where we lived over a decade ago! Sunday morning we attended worship with them, where we were incredibly welcomed, and then headed back to their apartment for the afternoon. It was weird being in a place which was so familiar as an outsider. Walking past the door to our old apartment was quite emotional! While in the building I sent one of our other friends a picture of their old door, which got us chatting and exchanging video messages. It was a nice way to both celebrate and grieve a time which is no more.

The evening was capped off by a trek out to ice cream, followed by a visit to Riverview Pizza. I have lost a lot of weight, and even on vacation I can say I only really over-indulged two times, but there was nothing that was going to keep me from polishing off a Riverview pizza while I was in town. It is a truly unique establishment, and they make singular pie. I have had better pizza, but The Riverview is a unique pizza. I recommend the meatball or pepperoni.

After dinner we chatted for a while, and then it was time to pack up and head back to the hotel. It was one last quite evening before the voyage home.

It’s difficult waving goodbye to friends and family, but it’s good to be home. It’s even better to know our relationships with these folks are deeply ingrained in our hearts.


  1. It helps that we know the area, having lived up on the North Shore while I was in seminary. 
  2. Coming from me, that’s a compliment. 
  3. On top of Breeds Hill. It’s a long story. 
  4. Given my proclivities for wanting space, this is not likely to happen. 
  5. It’s funny that he’s Salem’s favorite son, given that he was rather leery of the place as an adult. 

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  1. Reading your account , I wish I was there. A good ending to a wonderful vacation About these ads

    Sent from my iPad

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